Monday, February 13, 2006


Olympic Hockey Predictions?

I confess: I really don't have much of a feel for how the Olympic hockey tournament is going to go. I have thoughts, but none of them are backed up by much confidence.

I like Sweden more than most people seem to: I just have the feeling that this time, they're not going to beat themselves, and they'll have to be legitimately outplayed to lose.

I like Czech less than most people seem to: yeah they have Jagr, and Hasek/Vokoun, but I'm not that impressed with their depth.

I like Canada to win, but I wish I were more confident about it... A few more:

- The results of the round-robin are just about as meaningless as can be. Whoever wins Group B (and that really could be any one of Sweden, Russia, USA, or Slovakia) likely gets the reward of a matchup with Germany or Switzerland in the Quarterfinals. That's something for those teams to play for. But the winner of Group A gets the team that finishes 4th of those 4. Could you say with any confidence, today, that that'll be an easier matchup than if you finish 3rd in Group A?

- As such, Canada should absolutely be rolling 4 lines and using two (or three) goaltenders through the round-robin. The QF game is the 1st game in this tournament that means anything, and it will be the 6th game in 8 days for both teams. Nobody's going to be fresh, but if your top D pairing has been playing 26 minutes a game through the round-robin, that doesn't bode all that well for your QF prospects.

- Canada's depth is clearly one of their major strengths, in this regard: they can probably win round-robin games in this way more easily than everyone else. (And hell: there's always a possibility that Arturs Irbe or Kolesnik stones Russia for 1 GA on 50 shots and beats them out for Pool B 4th. Then, suddenly, 1st in Group A looks highly attractive.)

- Injuries is obviously a huge wild card. The obvious issue is the trouble of a top player going down. But how well do things work out with the taxi squads? You can find lots of people who say Eric Staal deserves to be one of Canada's 13 forwards. But what if Joe Sakic gets hurt in Canada's 5th round-robin game, and a stir-crazy Staal comes in for the QF? Considering the legs he'd have, isn't it possible that suddenly he's the best player in the tournament at that point? (For a historic parallel here, go back to the 1990 Bruins-Oilers finals. Klima was benched in the 2nd or 3rd period, then got his first shift in hours in 3OT. Everyone else looked like they were standing still, and he potted the winner.)

- Slovakia looks like they should be terrific, perhaps notwithstanding Budaj in goal. But they've looked terrific on paper for years. Until they achieve a good result in at least one major competition, I don't see how anyone can pick them.

- Boldest prediction I've read: Ingmar W. Bergman picks Italy to make the playoff round. Hey, maybe Jason Muzzatti has improved a lot since he was a training camp sieve for the Flames in the early 90's. If not, uh, well then, I'm skeptical that he'll be able to outplay Olaf Kolzig and Gerber/Aebischer for that 4th spot in Pool A.

- Worst Case Scenario For Canada: Iginla, Pronger, and McCabe get injured; Bertuzzi is an invisible non-factor throughout the tournament; and we lose to Russia in the QF on an Alex Ovechkin hat-trick while Sidney Crosby watches on TV.

If that happens, hand-wringing will be appropriate. Anything else, I figure, can be chalked up to That's Hockey.


Slovakia won the gold medal at the 2002 World Championship. They're a contender.

Plus their #1 defenceman, still kind of unpolished in '02, is currently running away with the Norris Trophy in his freakish huge fists. And they've upgraded with Svatos and Meszaros, who would be Calder candidates in an ordinary year.

Slovakia won the Gold at the 2002 Worlds? Why aren't I notified about these things!

As I've written before, it isn't possible for me to be more impressed with Chara, but he's probably THE #1 CANDIDATE to be run into the ground by his coach by the playoff round.

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